How does that old saying go? You know the one about heroes? Ahhh, I got it...
"You should never meet your heroes, they'll only disappoint."
Earlier this month I got to meet one of my heroes, WWF Legend King Haku/Meng/King Tonga at the Manukau Armageddon Expo.
I'm not one for celebrity worship or to put people on a pedestal but this time I felt myself a little nervous, a bit of a lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach with the thought of talking to Tonga (Tonga Fifita is Haku's real name.)
I went up several flights of stairs to meet Tonga in the Green Room and there sat an imposing figure all alone at a table reading. Had the other guests heard of the countless road stories of Haku's exploits outside of the wrestling ring? To be honest, I wouldn't blame the actors for wanting to save their noses, teeth and faces from the toughest man in the business.
What greeted me when I arrived at his table was a warm smile. This hulking Tongan stood up and his large, calloused hands with crooked little fingers reached out and met me with a gentle yet firm handshake. I am in the presence of a legend that I looked up to as a child (I mark out on the inside, of course.)
Now as a Polynesian kid growing up, there were many things I loved (and still love) like comic books, pro wrestling and action figures. Growing up in the 80s, WWF was all the rage at school and some of my faves were Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, Ravishing Rick Rude and many others. But Haku changed my perception of what a pro wrestler can be - someone like me.
When Haku became King Haku, he got more TV time and more exposure. All the Polynesian kids at school would brag about King Haku being their uncle regardless of whether they were Samoan, Tongan, Fijian or whatever. I'm not ashamed to say I was one of those little kids.
Auckland, New Zealand has the highest population of Polynesian people in the world. At a time when brown people weren't being represented in our media, having this Tongan wrestler on our TV sets week in and week out showed us the possibilities that are out there for us. This strong and kick ass representation of Polynesian people wasn't just on NZ TV, it was being shown all around the world! To little snotty nosed brown kids from South Auckland, it was something to strive for. If Haku can do it, we can too.
So I didn't just admire Tonga Fifita for being a real life tough guy in the wrestling world, I admired him as a representation of Polynesian people that was rare at the time.
Talking with Tonga, he remarked about how happy he was to see Polynesian people with all kinds of interesting careers, especially in TV and radio, after his interviews with Mai FM and Tagata Pasifika. Career choices that weren't available for us in the 80s. Now, the world is our oyster and we just have to go out there and work for it. I think that Haku's success in the WWF and WCW let us know it was OK to dream big.
After chatting with Tonga for a bit, we head down to the locker room area to talk about what we were going to do for our upcoming tag team match on the Main Stage.
WARNING: The following paragraphs contain backstage wrestling talk. If you still want to believe in the magic of pro wrestling, skip these next few paragraphs.
Tonga and I sit in the locker room talking about all manner of things - wrestling, life, Polynesian pride and everything else in between. Just outside our locker room, camera crews from Fresh TV and Tagata Pasifika wait for us to film some pick ups.
Our opponents, Kingi and Vinny Dunn, enter the room and we get to talking. All week, I had been preparing myself to take the heat and get the beat down so Haku can get the hot tag and the huge pop. As we talk, Haku says, "If I'm taking the finish, I'll take the heat." Kingi, Vinny and I look at each other like, "Whaaaaaat?!" Haku continues, "You guys are the future of the business, I'll take the heat." Haku's love of the business meant he was willing to put us over and make us look strong.
It's showtime and as we exit the locker room, the camera crews follow us out into the gorilla position. My music hits and come out to a decent welcome from the Manukau crowd. I'm excited and nervous and feeling like a little kid knowing I'm about to share the ring with my hero. I get caught up in the moment and start talking to the crowd and almost introduce Haku myself. I turn to Stevie the ring announcer and let him have the honours of announcing the WWF legend. Haku comes out to rapturous applause and a few fa'aumu calls (Cheehoos!)
Watching Haku go in the ring is surreal. There will be times will I have to remind myself that I'm his tag team partner and not a fan while in the match. The match is going well and the crowd are hot for the action. Haku is taking a beat down by Kingi and Vinny Dunn until Vinny misses a top rope elbow drop attempt which leaves Haku open to tag me in.
I get the hot tag and come in doing fancy shit like Faces do which I find weird being such a natural Heel. Vinny breaks up a pin attempt and when Kingi and Vinny whip me into the ropes, Haku makes the blind tag. While lying on the mat, Haku finally comes in and kicks Vinny out and goes to town on Kingi. I sit in the corner in awe as Haku does his little haka style song and dance to set up a dazed Kingi for the Tongan Death Grip. Kingi is looking towards me and I point behind him and tell him to turn around. He swivels around and then it's TONGAN DEATH GRIP TIME!!! While in the clutches of the painful maneuver, I knock Vinny off the apron and watch, slightly jealous it isn't me in the Tongan Death Grip, as Haku pins Kingi for the 1, 2, 3!
NEW IPW NZ TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS!!!
Holy crap! I'm a tag team champion alongside my hero, Haku! That's some crazy dream like shit!!!
I present Haku the title belt and we make our way out to the people to celebrate. The joy and pride of everyone in attendance afterwards is the reason why we pro wrestlers do what we do. To be able to present Samoan and Tongan unity to South Auckland and show what you can do when you work together was a fantastic experience.
I hope we have done our people proud!
To be continued....
Part two coming soon!